The IT department was almost extinct by the time the new vice president of information technology arrived at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maryland in 1995. The company was outsourcing all its IT work to cut costs after being publicly rebuked for excess spending. Of the 285 employees required for the IT department, 60 IT jobs were vacant. The remaining staff had been given notice that they soon would be working for a consulting company. And the company hadn't had a vice president of IT for 18 months. Morale? Worse than you can imagine.
Enter Charles Bradbury, a troubleshooting IT sheriff, who in three years reversed the outsourcing trend and filled 42 of the 60 IT openings with virtually no turnover. Recruiting and retaining IT staff was critical to the nonprofit corporation's new five-year, $70 million IT strategic plan, Bradbury says. The plan called for creating information systems for managed care administration, sales and marketing, underwriting, medical management, finances, information management, infrastructure development, and IT effectiveness, he says.
The plan, in turn, showed potential employees that the company understood and valued IT professionals, he says. However, his early recruiting efforts were hindered by the company's reputation for outsourcing, he comments. Bradbury conducted a benchmark study that showed in-house staff clearly cost less than hiring consultants. Using in-house IT staff, "we also had better control, better timing, increased business knowledge, and continuity," Bradbury says. Since he arrived, BCBS Maryland has doubled its revenues of $2 billion and the size of its IT staff by merging with the National Capitol Area Blue Cross plan.
When the executive steering committee - the CEO and the vice presidents - discovered they were too short-staffed to activate the grand plan, it turned to the human resources department and barked "Fix it!" The backing of high level executives was paramount, Bradbury says. For one thing, it helped Bradbury overcome the human resource department's resistance to the salary increases and other financial incentives necessary to attract IT professionals.
You need to provide financial incentives. If you don't pay them [IT staff] on the front end, you'll pay later in terms of turnover and vacancies," Bradbury says. Among the corporation's techniques to maximize recruiting and minimize turnover, it:
partners with a Villa Julie, a local college, to create a "boot camp" for mainframe programmers. Blue Cross paid for a four-month course for students who scored well on tests. Those who passed the course with a "B" were promised jobs. The 12 successful students, including recent college graduates and a "retooled" engineer and dentist, have been hired through this effort and are working on Y2K compliance.
distributes $50 "on the spot" when an internal or outside client commends in written or verbal form one of its IT staff members. Bradbury, who distributes the money based on his own subjective criteria, does not limit how many times an employee can receive it.
designed a two-year incentive program specifically for IT professionals. The program tied a 3 percent bonus in 1998 to installing the new managed care administrative software (GTE Q/Care). Employees will receive a 7 percent incentive payment if they bring the information systems into total Y2K compliance by Sept. 1,1999.
awards bonuses to people who refer new employees. The bonuses range from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on how rare the prospect's skill set, Bradbury says.
compresses work schedules of either four days a week or nine days every two weeks. A just-completed six-month pilot program indicated no drop in service to customers when employees compressed their work weeks. Employees work out their day off schedule with their managers, Bradbury says.
experiments with telecommuting. Five people are telecommuting from two days to five days a week. Though the program "isn't for everyone," it has worked well for certain employees like the data security person who doesn't interface with internal or external customers and the data administrator whose spouse was transferred to Florida, Bradbury says. The company creates a mini-office at the telecommuter's home by providing a combination printer/fax/copier and ISDN lines.
breakfasts with members of the IT staff every two or three weeks to stay in touch.
installed the Kudo Board where employees post thanks to each other for assistance, promoting team spirit.
surveys and updates salaries every six months. The human resource department also awards merit raises.
has a dedicated, full-time IT staff recruiter in the human resource department.
permits relaxed business dress.
Blue Cross also outsourced the less interesting work such as parts of the Y2K conversion and legacy system, he says. The company also contracts with Ernst & Young as its IT strategic business advisor.
Developing talented IT staff within the company has been the cornerstone of the strategic plan, says Bradbury, adding that total outsourcing is not in the best interest of most companies.
"Any one of these [recruiting and retention] techniques would not be successful by itself", Bradbury says. "In combination, they have changed the atmosphere at Blue Cross. People want to join us rather than leave."
Aspen Publishers, IT Health Care Strategist.